One of the things that has been delightful for me is the artistic similarity between myself and my mother. My adoptive mother was creative but in a crafty sort of way rather than an impulse to create something for the purpose of expression.  I do not mean to denigrate that, only to point out that they are two separate things. My b-mom is a sculptor and potter, a painter and a sketch artist. Her artistic ramblings and mine are almost identical in terms of medium, albeit our subject matter is colored by our own personal drives and views that give fuel to the artistic impulses. The other day she and I were discussing the mechanics of laying out a particular type of design and the pros and cons of different layout software packages, and even while I was engaged in the conversation part of me stood aside and did a gleeful little jig. I always feel a level of anxiety when I show her my artwork. I want her to think it is well executed, of course, but more than that I want her to understand what is being communicated. In a way I am hoping that she understands better than I do myself, and can help me decipher what my subconscious sometimes keeps from my conscious mind.

I made a series of digital paintings in the early 2000s. It was a time of great emotional upheaval for me. I had failed in my marriage and was struggling to re-invent myself and support our two daughters. Many of these paintings made sense to me even as I was creating them, but some of them only became clear (to various extents) after the image was finished and I had some distance. Most of these paintings I have put on my Facebook page or otherwise published, but a few of them I kept to myself. They make me uncomfortable, even now. I hadn’t thought about these in years but for some reason they floated into my consciousness a few days ago. Submitted without further commentary:


5 women


A letter

I wrote the following in response to a very well-meant encouragement to adhere to the usual party line: that my a-parents loved me and cared for me and were my parents, not the genetic donors who are my b-parents. This was meant in kindness, for I had been sharing the difficult time I have been having parsing through my grief over my reunion with a grave and all the strangeness of feeling these emotions over someone I never even met. I was surprised at the passionate outpouring of my response, so I thought I would share it here as well.

** excerpt of response begins here **

Regarding my adoptive parents, please don’t feel that I harbor a great deal of anger toward them. It is simply not in me to cling to anger. You are absolutely correct in that I’m sure their position was that I was theirs from birth and that was that, and I don’t see any malice in it. Thoughtlessness and possibly arrogance, but not malice. There is also no point in supposing that my life with my biological parents would have been better or worse. It would have been different, that is all that can be known. My adoptive parents were 42 when I was born, and I was raised in a household more suited to the 40s than the 70s. My father was harsh and authoritarian and my mother was the compliant helpmeet. I was expected to grow up and be a housewife, and to that end I was not supported or encouraged to go to college or develop a career. When I left my husband my father started encouraging me to find another husband literally the day I moved out of our apartment, and years later got so incensed at my persistent singlehood that at one point he threatened to cut me out of his will unless I remarried. It was inconceivable to him that I would choose to remain single – to his way of thinking the whole point of women is to be married to men and so I clearly was Doing It Wrong.

Society’s narrative for the adoption story goes like this: the birth mother is the noble, self-sacrificing relinquisher doing what’s best for the baby and the adoptive parents are the noble, generous benefactors of the Poor Unfortunate. The adoptee is the loving, grateful beneficiary of mother’s sacrifice and adopters’ largesse. The reality, however, is more along these lines (especially for the millions of adoptions that occurred during the “Baby Scoop Era”, which my adoption solidly was): young unwed mother is shunted through a systematic maternity home/relinquishment path with virtually no options. She is usually scarred and grieving and offered little or no support for her trauma and loss. Infertile couples line up to adopt, to build families which the post-war burgeoning middle class held was the correct and conforming thing to do. Infertile couples were somehow suspect, considered lesser-than. In my own adoptive parents’ case, they both came from very large families (9 and 10 children) so the fact that my mother was only able to successfully carry and deliver one child must have been agonizing for them both.Then the entire adoption transaction was legally and socially sealed and hidden, to cover the shame of both infertility and bastardy. The adoptee was usually told, but often in the spirit of ‘this is a horrible secret that must never be discussed’. If my adoptive parents had told me as a child it would almost certainly have been in those terms, so I am glad they did not introduce what would inevitably have been an additional challenge to my sense of self-worth, already suffering from their attitude toward females in general.

I don’t mean to sound Dickensian about it all. Honestly I had a mostly pleasant and uneventful childhood and I accept that everybody’s decisions were logical and without malice. My adoptive parents assuredly loved me and I them. The grating thing is that the adoptee’s feelings or needs are never allowed first consideration, if they are allowed any consideration at all, and the birth family even less so. I had no participation in the decisions surrounding my adoption and was never given an opportunity to form an opinion, let alone have my needs considered, particularly should they be in conflict with anyone else’s. Even now, at 50 years old, I am to discard my own feelings about the situation in favor of everyone else’s. Even with my adoptive parents dead and gone, their feelings have precedence over mine. It is all well and good to support the accepted narrative, but if it were so cut and dried then why do most adoptees seek their birth families, and why do most birth families desire reunion? You say that my father gave me genes as if it was inconsequential, and yet I see now that I am far more like my birth parents than I ever was like my adoptive parents. You can’t imagine my relief in finding the many, many traits I have that were wholly unlike anyone in my family (my writing, my art, my interest in the arts generally) that have parallels in my biological parents. I never suspected I was adopted, but I also spent most of my life feeling like I just didn’t fit in and my interests and abilities were merely tolerated. I always ascribed that to the age difference, but I think the real reason is clear now.

As far as what effect my birth parents finding me might have had on my teen self, I don’t think it would have been bad and it would likely have been particularly good if they had been an influence to tell me it was good to want to develop myself, but it seems a waste of time and inviting more irreconcilable angst to think too much about it. I’ve given the matter of not being told a great deal of thought and my conclusion is that my parents should have told me (and my adopted brother) when we became adults. I think it is so strange that we can accept our innate ability to love multiples – children, siblings, cousins – but somehow it is believed that we are incapable of loving two mothers and two fathers. It feels to me like possessiveness in the truest sense of the word, of the individual themselves but even more of one’s position as “mother” or “father” – the only relationship in life that is expected to be so permanently singular. It seems to me that our discomfort bespeaks our inherent understanding that the accepted social narrative is very, very wrong.


One of the experiences that I think is particular to the LDA is the sudden change in the understanding of where one fits in the complex web of relationships that surrounds every person and also the relationship with each individual – relationships that outside the adoption world develop naturally over lifetimes, but inside the adoption world the development is temporally skewed. I feel a deep connection to my mother and brothers, but really we are still almost complete strangers. I want so much not to feel like that.

I feel like I’m just plunking myself down at the dinner table uninvited and expecting to be served. There’s not really even a place set for me. I’ve brought my own best dish for the pot luck but only my mother has taken a full serving of it. My brothers and grand-uncle have taken a taste and seem appreciative and wanting seconds. The rest of the family just eyes me warily. Some of them still don’t even know I’m sitting at the table, and others know but are not ready to nod my way. I see the dishes being passed around but none get handed to me. I’ve snatched a taste off of a few of them as they pass, but feel guilty and greedy for doing it. I know I should wait politely for an invitation to sit down, but I can’t seem to do that.



I have jumped with both feet into my gene pool and the ripples are spreading. Mother-Father-Siblings-Aunts-Uncles-Cousins. Steps away from the Mom/Dad ground zero to ripple over grand aunts and uncles, over cousins x removed, over friends, lovers, co-workers, and acquaintances, mostly on my father’s side. I try to tread carefully among the inhabitants of the small towns to protect my mother’s privacy until such time as she declares the need for secrecy is over, but I am eager and sometimes obsessive and it doesn’t seem like that big of a puzzle for the curious to solve. I harbor a knot of anxiety over this but I can’t make myself stop searching for whatever remnants of my father exist. I fear that they are disintegrating all the time and when I find them they will be like the ash of a newspaper that will crumble in my hands before I am able to make out more than a word or two.

I have also found decades-old conflicts and heartaches that ripple forward from their points of origin to become landmines or obstacles for me to overcome. A box of pictures is precious, irreplaceable knowledge and connection to me, but reduced to being a hostage in a power struggle between others. Their conflict is almost meaningless for me so I delicately try to negotiate with both sides, hoping against hope that I can tease my precious treasure free and leave them to find other weapons.

I no longer have any perspective on how I am likely to be perceived. I reached out to a 2nd cousin 1x removed because we had been linked via DNA, and despite that it took some convincing to assure her that I was legit. She was the first one to demand proof and her suspicion almost discouraged me – and also made me unexpectedly indignant. I still feel a little awkward with her, mostly because her suspicion caused me to stop and review myself and in so doing I discovered that a part of me feels ashamed of myself for being so pushy, for asking to be acknowledged with little more than my own word for proof, for asking people to share their memories and their pictures when I have nothing to offer in return except a relationship with me should they want that. And why should they? Especially when my ripples touch people who are very distantly related or even almost entirely disconnected from my father’s memory now.

Warring with the shame and anxiety is anger and indignity… this is my father I’m asking about and I have every right to at least pictures of him if not memories. Especially since to pretty much everyone else, such things have little or no value. And I know now that he wanted to find me and had tried several times. The wanting to find me changed the course of his life, because he refused to have children with his wife because of me. When he was alive the government and society stood between us, and now it’s just time and indifference and a little bit of suspicion. So I will continue to make those phone calls and send those emails, hoping against hope that someday I might have more than two pictures of him. That’s all I have now, two pictures. One from high school and one from the late 70s that his ex-wife shared with me. I continue to reassure myself that it is OK to want more.


Some days I just feel blue, and my mind swims around in the fog and tries to attach itself to something solid to explain why I feel down. Ideas flit here and there and occasionally I feel like I am nearing an idea or a conclusion or a definition, but never actually get a firm hold on it. Most of the time my unhappiness is revolving around my father and in a related sense the decision of my adoptive parents to keep the truth about me from me. It makes me so sad to think about the lost opportunity to know him. I am trying as best as I can to know him through the eyes of others who knew him, but in a way that is a terrible tease that can never be relieved. Then I feel angry because I wouldn’t feel this way at all if they had just told me, even when I became an adult. I could still have known him for 10 years before he died. It makes me feel frustrated and angry to think they didn’t know me well enough to know I would have wanted to know, or honored me enough to accept that I deserved to know. Or maybe they knew that and just were too stubborn to change their mind about the decision they made when I was an infant. It’s all so unfair – all of these monumental decisions made that affect me that I never even had a chance to consider how I might feel about it, let alone participate in the decision.

I do believe there was no malice in the decision, and that they probably truly felt it was best for them and for me. In that light I can accept it, but still comfort with it eludes me. I think that is also because I can’t find a way to reconcile how my adoptive parents thought about my biological parents and how they must have disregarded any potential for pain they might have. If the APs believed that the BPs were just irresponsible children who wouldn’t give a second thought to the baby they created, that feels like a harsh judgment, and -the more I learn about both of them – an unfair and simply wrong one. If they believed my BPs were better than that but that they would just move on with their lives and forget all about me, that feels like a negative assessment on me – that I am easily forgotten. Transferable.  And also that I would never have any feelings about it, or right to even know.

It seems to me that the way adoption was practiced in this country (and still is, to some extent), the only parties that actually have any rights are the adoptive parents. They are the only ones whose feelings are considered, and they are the ones who are protected by law and by practice. And it’s just not fair.

First Meeting

After a month of phone calls Mom and I decided to meet in person. About mid-November I had suggested a certain hotel not far from her, when she was ready. It looked like a special place we would both enjoy, so when we decided to break through that next barrier she agreed that would be a good place to do it.

We were both understandably nervous and excited. We both brought boxes of photos, mementos, and stuff to share with one another. I got there a little bit before her so I was able to make sure everything was just the way I wanted it. And then suddenly there she was. I knew her immediately – she looked just like her pictures. We hugged, such a good long hug, and then we sat down and started talking and showing and staring at each other – sometimes overtly, sometimes surreptitiously. She is smaller than me – both thinner and shorter. The thinner I was expecting but I’m not sure why I thought she would be about my height.

We talked for almost 5 hours, then decided to go have a meal. When we got back from that we hung out in her room talking and showing more until we were both exhausted. We had a few more hours in the morning, and then we had to part.

It’s strange to me how it was a momentous occasion, but also felt completely natural. I felt entirely comfortable with her, and I think she felt the same. We are astonishingly similar creatures, but that too feels completely logical and natural. Neither of us cried. We just really enjoyed each other’s company. I feel relieved in a way that this first meeting is behind us.


11 Weeks

I just finished reading ‘The Primal Wound’ by Nancy Verrier. I had hesitated to read it earlier on because I know there is a lot of controversy around it, and understood its precepts going in. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to expose myself to the potential negative feelings it might evoke. But flush from all of my successes I felt comfortable enough to read it.

My initial reaction was that I do believe there has to be significant damage to the psyches of both the mother and the infant when they are separated at or soon after birth. In my case, however, there were large portions of the book that I felt did not apply to me, or perhaps applied only to my subconscious mind. When I finished it I wanted to read a book analyzing the effects of the primal wound specifically on an LDA. I was extremely shy as a child and preferred to sit alone and read rather than engage much with my peers, but is that evidence of damage to my psyche or simply a personality trait? My adopted brother was much more social than I was. I was more shy with peers than with adults, though, and I can remember wanting very badly to impress any adults I was exposed to. I was precocious, and so I think I often did. Was that me trying to not be abandoned again? Or was that, too, just another facet of my normal personality? Surely there are non-adopted children that have those traits. I think the danger is in putting so much emphasis on the primal wound or the adoption experience to the exclusion of other significant factors that contribute to development.

That said, however, I do feel a strong need to get more detail about the 11 weeks between my birth and my placement in my adoptive parents’ home. It seems that was standard operating procedure for that facility, because my brother who was also adopted from there has a similar gap between birth and placement. I have written to the Chicago Foundlings Home but have not as yet gotten any response. In a conceptual sense, however, my heart hurts for infant-me. I know from my mother that she was never allowed to hold me, and that she returned home shortly after my birth. So I was most likely living in a nursery and in the care of a rotation of nurses for the first 11 weeks of my life.

My only conscious experience of that time in life is from the experience of giving birth to my own daughters, and I know that during the early days of their life I could not stand for them to be separated from me. I would not allow them to be removed from the room where I delivered them, and took them home at the earliest moment I could extract us from the hospital bureaucracy- in the case of my elder daughter, 8 hours after delivery, and with the younger we were forced to wait until morning so roughly 16 hours. When they were newborn I wanted them touching me skin to skin and that is when they were the most content, and I nursed both of them for roughly a year. Was that obsession just a normal expression of motherhood, or was there an additional overlay of need because I had been denied that as an infant? Who can say? But Verrier does put to words what I experienced very vividly with my daughters. I used to feel their awareness and their mental state with perfect acuity. I knew exactly when they fell asleep, even if they were in a different room. I could physically feel them transition to sleep. I thought perhaps I was just being overly fanciful but now I think not. There is truly a deep connection between mother and baby.

I think no one could dispute that dumping a newborn infant in a bassinet to be fed and cared for by a rotation of nurses is an entirely unnatural state of affairs, and I object to having been so treated. Not that I can do anything with my objection but stew sullenly. One might argue that I came out all right so why should I concern myself about it? I don’t have a ready answer, but all I can imagine is a sterile nursery with plastic bassinets, a half dozen or more infants being bottle fed and changed by a parade of strangers. Perhaps occasionally taken out for extra cuddling by this or that sympathetic nurse. It makes me feel ill and heartsick to think about it.

I’ve read about regression hypnotherapy and the idea intrigues and frightens me. I am not sure I am prepared to cope with the feelings that pre-verbal me was experiencing in a situation that can only be described as incredibly traumatic. Perhaps it would be healing for me to intellectualize and so settle my infant-mind. Or perhaps there is no way to do that, and unearthing such a deep-seated set of pre-verbal feelings would only depress me.

Renaissance Man

I wrote previously that I had triangulated the identity of my father through my DNA matches, but I never had to even bring that up to my mother. He was the first thing she wanted to talk about the first time we talked. High school sweethearts – they were both 17 when I was born – but as she talked I came to understand that  it was more than just puppy love. I truly believe they were soul mates, even though they never found a way to be together. I indulge a bit of guilty feelings on occasion, because surely the trauma of having me was part of the reason she was unable to resume their relationship, and then ensuing circumstances (Vietnam, his college, her marriage, his death) meant it never was to be.

There is a certain pleasure I feel in the story, too, tragic though it is. I like to think I came out of that kind of deep love. When I found out I was adopted I had to accept the very real possibility that my conception could have been due to any number of horrible or just awkward scenarios. I am glad for my own story. I seem to be describing myself as lucky a lot, but I can’t see any other way to describe it.

The paths to knowing my mother are already well established, but as consuming (and delightful) as that is I have also the desire to know my father, as best as I am able. Unfortunately all of his immediate family are dead. Knowing that most of them died before he did I got to wondering about his personal effects. He earned medals in Vietnam and surely there were other things that anyone who cared about him would never have disposed of. I thought perhaps if he had a girlfriend she might have a box of his things sitting in her attic that she, having surely moved on 20 years later, would be happy to give to me. So the game was afoot again. I scoured my resources for possible associates of his and two names kept coming up – a woman’s name, and a man with his last name that is 5 years younger than me. The woman’s name was also listed with his last name, so I thought perhaps she was his wife and he was their son.

The report I pulled on the man listed five phone numbers. I was shocked that it was as hard to call them as it was. I was literally quaking with fear when I dialed the first time… only to be met with a ‘disconnected line’ announcement. Same with the next three. By the fifth time I dialed the abject terror had calmed down quite a bit, but my heart was still pounding. A woman answered the phone- I believe his wife- and I thought, oh geez – she’s going to think I’m some affair or something. I gave my name and asked if I could speak to him and she wanted to know what it was about. I told her I was trying to get in touch with someone who might have known this person, and gave his name and San Francisco. She made some skeptical sounding noises, then I heard a man’s voice. He had either just picked up an extension or had been on the line all the time. She agreed to let him handle it and hung up her line (or not? Doesn’t matter.).

I explained again that I was trying to find someone who knew Larry. He wanted to know why, and there I was struck dumb. I was so afraid he was going to hang up. I finally blurted out something to the effect of, “I’m his daughter. I just found out that I was adopted a little over a month ago, and I’m in contact with my mother and I know he’s my father and I’m just really hoping I can learn more about him.” At least, that’s what I am hoping I communicated. There’s no telling what actual words spilled out. I am much more eloquent on the page than I am speaking. But, however poorly I communicated, he accepted it enough to say, “I didn’t really know him very well. You probably should talk to my father.” So much for my theory that he was my half-brother. He asked for my contact information and told me he’d call me back after he’d discussed it with his father. I agreed and thanked him profusely.

Ten minutes later the phone rang. It was my cousin, and he had conferenced in his mother and father, my great aunt and uncle. We talked for well over an hour, and they were so warm and gracious that even now I tear up a bit thinking about it. As luck would have it, my great uncle was with my father when he died, and has that box of stuff I was looking for. He is planning to send it to me, and my cousin is planning to scan pictures to send when he visits over Christmas. They even invited me to visit next time I am in the area.

As to the woman that was associated with him, it may be that they were married but even if they were it was short-lived and unhappy. My great uncle and aunt talked about visiting her one time after he died, and how she had nothing but bad things to say about my father. They were very uncomfortable and have not spoken with her since.

It may be that I am weaving an elaborate tale of true love for my parents because it pleases me to do so, but through the tidbits of information I have gathered it seems to me that he, too, never found another that could replace my mother. It is such a bittersweet feeling for me.

Slow Dancing

It has been two weeks since The Call. My mother and I have spoken roughly every other day in long, rambling, wonderful calls. We reveal ourselves to each other bit by bit, through asking and answering questions or just revealing some thing we want the other to know. There is so much to know, and there will always be more. I think the first question, the one that drove me to find her, was ‘Do you want to know me?’ with its implicit ‘I want to know you.’

I had read accounts of many reunions that describe deep commonality with one’s biological kin, so I wasn’t surprised per se when those pieces started falling into place. I even try to caution myself not to read too deeply into things. I like Frangelico. She likes Frangelico. Lots of people like Frangelico, after all. But it is with almost giddy delight that I observe the growing list of things. It’s not specifically Frangelico or an aversion to movie violence, or a love of reading, or sculpting in clay, or enjoying performing in theater, or doing graphic design. It’s the mass of those things that is remarkable and it just feels so good.

Each time we talk I feel a growing confidence in us both, a sense of permanence in our relationship. I still feel afraid that she will change her mind and decide it’s just too much or that she does not want to face any possible negativity if I am revealed. I have put the pacing of our reunion and any revelation of me to her family or friends entirely in her hands, and I think that is only fair. I have no risk at all – all the risk is on her side. But ceding that control invokes its own set of anxieties and I find myself hoping more than anything that she reveals me to someone – anyone – sooner than later because that would make it very difficult for her to just slip away. Honestly I am almost positive that won’t happen, but I can’t help worrying a little, too. Indeed, she told me that she is planning to reveal me to my brother this Christmas when she is visiting, and I am more joyful about that than it seems logical to be.

I realized that revealing me carries the statement ‘This is my daughter. This relationship is important to me. I want you to know her too.’ The statement implies pride and permanence. It is a definitive answer to the question ‘Do you want to know me?’ When I unpack my desires this way I feel amazed at my gall and egotism for expecting such a thing, after only two weeks – or two minutes even!! – of knowing one another. So I take a deep breath and remind myself to let things unfold and to enjoy the rosebud as much as the fully open bloom.